What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. Almost 60,000 women are diagnosed with this disease every year, with an extra 7,400 breast cancer sufferers diagnosed with an earlier, non-invasive form, confined to a specific area of the breast (usually milk ducts) but which may later acquire the ability to spread.

One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. It is much less common in men, with approximately 1% of all breast cancers occurring in men.
It is key for you to become familiar with how your breasts look and feel so you know what is normal for you at different times of the month.

If you have any concerns about your breasts you should make an appointment with your doctor who will either reassure you or refer you to a specialist.

We don’t know the causes of breast cancer but we do know that it can be influenced by factors such as, your age, lifestyle or family history.


A change in size, shape or swelling Changes to the nipple, shape, direction, inversion or flattened, or any unusual discharge, rash, crusted or flaky skin Changes to your skin such as redness, dimpling, or puckering Swelling around your collarbone or in your armpit Any size lump or thickening Constant pain in one part of your breast or underarm
Mammogram A Mammogram is a low-dose x-ray which take pictures of the breasts. Each breast is x-rayed from both the side and the top by a radiographer. Breast Ultrasound When something suspicious has been found or suspected during a mammogram or self-examination, a breast ultrasound is to create images of the inside of your breast, to determine the precise location of a lump and whether that lump is a solid or fluid-filled lump. MRI Scan In some cases, ultrasound and mammograms may have difficulty picking up the cancer or may underestimate its size. In these cases, your doctor may recommend a MRI scan of the breasts. Fine Needle Aspiration This procedure is when a fine needle is inserted into a breast lump by a surgeon who attempts to withdraw fluid. Biopsy If, during an ultrasound, you are found to have a solid lump, a biopsy will remove some tissue which is then tested and the results discussed with you.
Male breast cancer is not common. The main difference between men and women’s breast tissue is down to hormones. In women, there are various hormones in the body which stimulate the breast tissue to grow into full breasts (while there may be times men develop actual breast gland tissue, it is usually because they have abnormal hormone levels or are prescribed particular medicines). The symptoms for male breast cancer are the same for those of women. If referred to the specialist Breast Centre for further tests by your GP, you will have a combination of the following tests before a diagnosis can be confirmed: